K-pop or Korean pop music refers to not only types of music but to a musical movement that swept South Korea in the early 1990s and continues to dominate. Much of the music is similar to what you’d hear on American pop radio stations, though more often sung or rapped in Korean. In fact, early versions of Korean pop leaned heavily on certain American forms, like R & B, hip hop, and a little bit of rock and techno. Boy and girl bands, sometimes called bubblegum pop are very well received, but so are the contributions of older artists.
One of the first bands thought to have influenced the wave of k-pop was Seo Tai-ji and Boys. Seo Tai-ji is actually considered an icon of pop music, along the same lines as Americans might view Michael Jackson or Madonna, particularly at the height of their careers in the 1980s. Seo Tai-ji’s first album was released in 1992, and its danceable tunes were a huge hit. Other bands soon followed and hip-hop groups like Deux quickly gained huge audiences. Following American trends, a host of teen idols became popular by the mid 1990s, and k-pop has continued to grow.
Individual artists show considerable experimentation in their work. Idols like Seo Tai-ji have created highly danceable albums and ones that dip into heavy metal and alternative rock and contain virtually no dance tunes. In the 2000s, ballads from k-pop artists have become common, yet you can’t label k-pop as all one type of music, since individuals and bands differ so much.
One internationally recognized member of this movement is Rain, or Jeong Ji-Hoon. After starting in the boy band Fanclub, not a very popular or long lasting group, Rain turned to a solo career. The multi-talented Rain dances, sings and acts, and he has become popular not only in South Korea but in surrounding Asian countries. He’s well known in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, and even in parts of China.
Even if the US is often most concerned with music from its own country or the UK, Rain and the k-pop movement have created significant notice. Rain was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Time Magazine in 2006. His good looks earned him a spot in the 2007 list of People Magazine’s most beautiful people.
Rain might best be described as the Korean Justin Timberlake, multi-talented and extremely popular. He has formed a vital part of hallyu. Hallyu is best described as the spreading out of South Korean popular culture, and it becoming embraced by many, especially in surrounding Asian countries. This influence explains in part Rain’s popularity in countries surrounding his own.
Much as America experienced the British invasion of rock stars in the 1960s, k-pop is certainly making its own inroads into other cultures, and many of its stars are internationally known. Though the music of k-pop often still derives from American forms, some of the more experimental artists are now adding to those forms and blending them in different ways to create wholly new music, which offers listeners all over the world a chance to hear something new and exciting.